Surviving a Natural Disaster with Your Dog
The most important key to surviving any sort of natural disaster is to be prepared for what might happen. No, it’s not pleasant to think about your house burning down in a wildfire or being flooded, but the time you spend planning for the worst may mean you’ll get the best possible outcome: you, your family, and your pets will all live through the situation.
Have a “go bag” for every member of the family
Each person and animal should have a go bag prepared so it can be loaded into the car in a hurry if an emergency strikes. The contents of the bag should be reviewed and updated at least annually, if not quarterly.
What does a go bag contain? Keep in mind that you should be able to be self-sustaining for at least three days. It usually takes at least that long for rescue efforts to be organized through the Red Cross and Salvation Army. That means at least 3 gallons of water per person or animal, and 3 days worth of non-perishable food. Don’t forget the manual can opener! Plan on a 7-day supply of medications, just in case you can’t get back into your home for awhile, and check the expiration date to see when you will need to use the medicine and replace it with fresh. Medication, as well as the directions for dosage, should be kept in a watertight container, such as a zipper bag.
You will also want to include a copy of your dog’s veterinarian and shot record. If you have to board your pet or take him or her to a shelter, you will likely need to prove that the animal is healthy prior to admittance. You might also include your vet’s contact information, as well as dosages of medication or anything else you think your dog will need if you get separated during the disaster.
Your pet’s go bag should also include an extra leash or harness, a toy or two, and food / water dishes. You can pack all of your dog’s supplies in a carrier or crate so everything is ready to go when you are leaving in a hurry.
Where will you go?
Obviously, the nature of the disaster and the area in which you live will be the major determining factors in where you will go for shelter following an emergency. For example, if you live along the Gulf coast, you will likely evacuate north during a hurricane. If you live in Oklahoma, you’re may need to move outside tornado alley to find shelter following a big storm.
The key here is to know where you plan to shelter, and make sure everyone in your family who may become separated from you knows where to look for you. If you have adult children or even your own siblings and parents who live in the same area as you do, it will be helpful if you all know to meet at a certain hotel or landmark.
If you don’t have family in neighboring areas, check ahead of time with hotels which will likely be outside of the disaster zone and find a few that will take pets. Find out what their policies are regarding pet deposits, size of dogs they accept, etc. If you have your list made ahead of time, you can be calling to make a reservation right after the disaster ends, while everyone else is still checking on family members and deciding where they will go.
Most shelters are not equipped to handle dogs, other than assistance animals. You may have to make alternate arrangements for your pet if you plan to stay at a community shelter. In some cases, the humane society or other non-profit organizations will set up parallel shelters for animals close to human shelters. To assure you have a place for your dog, you might even suggest to your local shelter that you chair a committee to plan for an emergency animal shelter to be used in the event of a community disaster.
What if you are separated from your dog?
If your dog were to run out of the house during a fire, how would you find him? Most pet owners have gone with a microchip or tags that are worn all the time as a means of getting the animal back when he or she gets the urge to explore the neighborhood. You may even know where to go to pick your dog up if he or she is a frequent escapee.
Several different types of natural disasters can damage your normal containment system for your dog. If the power is out, an electric fence will be ineffective, possibly for several days. Strong winds can blow down your fence. Fires may damage the doors to your home. In any case, be prepared for your dog to be getting very familiar with the great outdoors.
However, in an event as terrifying as a fire or big storm, your dog’s behavior may change drastically. He or she may hide or run someplace far away, trying to escape the fear. Even when the dog is found, normal contact methods may be useless. In a really big storm, cell towers may be down and landlines most certainly will be down.
You might consider including an out-of-town family member on your emergency information on a microchip, with the hope that they will be outside the area of the immediate disaster and may still be reachable. Another option is to have an extra ID tag made that you will put on your dog’s collar when you know of an impending storm or other natural disaster. The extra tag might list a relative’s number or address just in case you cannot be reached.
Keep a current photo of your dog in your go bag so you can make fliers if the need arises.
Keep an eye to the sky
Depending on where you live, there are likely well-defined seasons of high risk. For example, California wild fires generally become a problem in the summer. Blizzards in the Great Plains are usually a factor only from November to March.
For many disasters, your local emergency planning organization and the weather service will give you ample warning. Pay attention to these warnings by bringing your dog inside your home, if possible, and getting your go bags loaded into the car before the bad weather is right on top of you.
For a disaster such as a house fire that strikes without warning, your only option may be to make sure everyone gets out alive. Under no circumstances should you go back into a burning building once you are out. Your animals may have escaped through an open door or blown out window, and you will be putting yourself at risk while searching for them in vain. Choose a meeting place at the edge of your property where everyone will gather. This way you can count noses and see if anyone has seen or already rescued the dog.
Consult the Red Cross and ASPCA websites for more information on keeping your dog safe during natural or man-made disasters. The ASPCA site also has free emergency pet alert stickers for your home’s windows.
Spend just a few minutes documenting your plans in advance of the various hazards for which your area is known. The life you save may be your own…and your dog’s.